BRUSSELS — The European Union has launched a naval operation against people-smugglers in the Mediterranean as part of the ongoing international effort to tackle the flow of migrants from Africa.
EU foreign ministers agreed to the new defense force at a ministerial meeting in Luxembourg on Monday.
Federica Mogherini, foreign policy chief for the bloc, said the aim of the mission would be to “identify, capture and destroy vessels” before they are used by human traffickers to bring migrants across the Mediterranean Sea.
The move comes largely in response to the hundreds of migrants who have died in recent weeks trying to reach Europe.
An EU source said the first phase of the operation will focus on surveillance and assessment of the criminal networks behind the boats attempting to make the dangerous crossing.
The second phase will allow for the search and seizure of suspicious vessels, while the third phase would permit the “disposal of vessels and related assets, preferably before use” and to “apprehend traffickers and smugglers.”
An EU official said member states want to try to “disrupt trafficking networks, bring the perpetrators to justice and seize their assets.”